My mother was a great cook. I know everyone can say that, but it was definitely true for us. While other kids had Twinkies and Hostess pies in their lunch box, my brother and I had home-baked goods – snickerdoodles, brownies, Italian cookies, cupcakes, the works. Like many kids, we never really appreciated how good we had it.

My mom, who passed away in 2022, instilled in us the idea that food equals love. Good homemade food. She loved to feed people, and she explained every dish extensively. She came from an Italian background and prided herself on being able to cook from her family origins. And from her heart. No one ever went hungry in our home.

One of the dishes that stands out among many is my mom’s Italian Chili. I do not know the origin of this recipe, but it was submitted by my mom to several church cookbooks during the ’70s and ’80s. I remember my Nana Pecoraro making it for us as kids, but truth be told, my mom’s version was better.

My family saw this simple dish as great comfort food, not only for us, but our friends and neighbors. There is nothing better on a cold winter evening than having a big bowl of warm chili.

Sick? We made Italian Chili and delivered it. New baby? Death? Shut in? My mom would be there with this easy-to-transport meal. Add a loaf of crusty bread and you have a crowd pleaser that tastes even better the next day.

The dish is an Italian version of an American staple and can be modified with ground turkey or vegan crumbles. The tomato base and ketchup add a sweeter taste, versus the heat of traditional chili, making it a favorite of adults and kids. Doubling the ingredients for larger crowds is an easy modification, and leftovers can be frozen for a quick future meal.


I have made this dish since I was in college, and what I appreciate about it most is the way it can be modified to taste. I have added garlic, tomato paste, onions, shredded cheddar cheese and cooked dumplings on top. It is truly one of those recipes that any family can claim as their own. And to me, that is the hallmark of a truly great recipe.

Mom’s Italian-Style Chili with cornbread. Photo courtesy of Amy Stanley Whitmore

Mom’s Italian-Style Chili

The recipe can be easily halved or doubled. It freezes very well.

Serves 6-8

8 stalks celery, diced
4 carrots, coarsely grated
1 or 2 onions, chopped
Oil, divided use
2 pounds hamburger meat
2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans with the liquid
2 large (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, with their juices
3/4 cup catsup, plus more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Shredded cheddar or parmesan cheese, optional

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot. Add the celery, carrots and onions, and simmer for a few minutes to get a bit soft. 


In a separate pot and with another 1 tablespoon of oil, fully cook the hamburger meat. When it is nicely browned, add to the stew pot with the vegetables.

Add the remaining ingredients – except for the cheese – to the pot, squishing the tomatoes with your hands/fingers before adding them. Then chop or tear up the tomato skins to a size of your liking and add these to the pot as well. Note: It is better to start with a smaller amount of catsup and add more to taste.

Stir everything together, and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 1 hour.

To serve, sprinkle bowls of chili with fresh shredded cheddar or parmesan cheese if you like.

Amy Whitmore’s mom, Nancy, with Amy, then 4 years old, and her brother Steve, then 2. The year was 1967. Photo courtesy of Amy Stanley Whitmore

THE COOK: Amy Stanley Whitmore

“I am a 60-year-old executive in the nonprofit industry. I am from Massachusetts but saw the light and went to school at UMaine (Orono). I’ve been in Southern Maine ever since. I have two adult children who grew up eating my cooking and baking, and my husband has always said that he would be a lot thinner if I couldn’t cook well. Growing up in a family with an Italian mom and grandmother, there were always pasta dishes and Italian sweets. That’s my favorite style, mixed with good, hearty church lady-ish recipes that have stood the test of time. My favorite kitchen tool is definitely my new Kitchenaid, and I cannot wait to get the pasta-making attachment. I am just sorry it took me so many years to get it.”

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